Caterham in 1894.
The village of Caterham- on- the- Hill has existed since Norman times, changing little before the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1861 the small parish church of St. Lawrence was still the only church for the population of 815 people. The village on the hill developed to service the two new projects, St. Lawrence's Asylum which was built in 1870 and the Guards' Depot in 1874. Prior to 1856, had you walked along the turnpike road in Caterham valley, you would have been surrounded by open fields. The coming of the railway in 1856, made Caterham accessible from London and the valley became a prime development area. Caterham changed fairly rapidly from being a country village to being a London suburb. The population rose by five and a half thousand in 20 years.
The beginning of our church is linked to this sudden movement of people into Caterham during the second half of the nineteenth century. The valley land was being sold for development of villas for wealthy Victorians, who wanted to live in the country, but use the railway to travel into Croydon or London. These Victorian commuters were not satisfied with the standard of service, just like commuters today! In 1898 the parish meeting recorded that 'the residents of Caterham, feeling the inconvenience suffered by them owing to the deficient provision for passengers, the marked irregularity of the trains and the high price of fares, request the parish council to take such steps as may be necessary to mitigate these grievances.'
The speedy development of the area is illustrated by a map of 1868 where there are no houses in what was to become Beechwood Road, but just 10 years later a notice of auction shows 10 houses in the road. The auction was for a plot of 1 acre for development of 1 or more villas or cottages, bordering the turnpike road. In that acre now there are 13 units of housing plus the chapel buildings! The notice mentions the new road (now Beechwood Road) and the board school (now the adult education centre) which had been built in 1872. By 1895 the school had 160 children on its register, who must have watched the continuing development of Beechwood Road with interest. Not everyone in the new houses in Beechwood Road was wealthy. The poor law register shows that two residents, one a shepherd and the other a widow were receiving 2/6d. from the parish every few months.
New development meant new marketing opportunities and to cater for the new customers who lived in the valley, trades people started to set up shops in the Croydon Road, near the station. This influx of new business people into Caterham is another strand in the formation of our church.
The Church in the Tea Rooms 1894 - 1895
The church was formed by Strict Baptists* from various parts of London, who had come to Caterham with their work. Most Christians at that time were more denominationally minded and would not mix easily outside their grouping. The nearest churches where they would have felt at home were in Croydon, 8 miles away. It seems likely that they did worship at the Croydon churches and knew the Christians there, because 6 of the 11 original trustees were from the chapels at West Street and Tamworth Road in Croydon.
However, the impetus for starting a new church seems to have rested with Frank Marshall Pool and two friends of his in Caterham, Daniel John Southwood and George Milton Puttee. Frank Pool was an upholsterer by trade, who had rented a shop at 45, Croydon Road and lived above the shop. This shop was demolished to make way for Hammond house. He had come from Mount Zion Chapel at Chadwell Street, the Angel, Islington, where he had been baptised and received into membership in 1891 by pastor Edward Mitchell. Daniel John Southwood was living at 3, Arthur Cottages, Whyteleafe with his wife Ellen, who was 20 years younger than he was. He was a currier, someone who dresses and colours leather after it is tanned. He had come to Caterham from Nunhead and before that Bermondsey, where he had been baptised. George Milton Puttee and his wife Mary Ann were living at 3, Merstham Terrace in Coulsdon Road. He had originally come from Folkestone and had moved up to London to become Master of the Vauxhall workhouse in Wandsworth Road. In 1894 he was described as a tailor at St. Lawrence's Asylum and was already 66 years old when the new church was being discussed.
These friends started a Sunday meeting in the home of Frank Pool at 45, Croydon Road on February 25th 1894. It became popular and sometimes as many as 35 people gathered, so they hired Cutler's tea rooms at 73 Croydon Road to accommodate the numbers. The preachers who helped them were Mr. Alfred Fisher from Kilburn, Mr. Adams and Mr. Radley.
Within months they felt that they should form themselves into a church. Frank Pool wrote to the church at Chadwell Street on November 9th 1894, 'We, a few of the Lord's freed people have decided to form ourselves into a church here, and our dear pastor (Edward Mitchell) has consented to come down and see to the formation and to advise us on the matter. So I feel my duty to ask for a dismissal from my birthplace and the people that I love.' The small group also asked the pastor of Clarendon Road, College Park, Lewisham, James Crook to conduct the formalities. The pastors they chose to do this would indicate that they were more in contact with the London churches than those in Croydon. There were 7 baptised people who became the nucleus of the new church in Caterham. Who the 7 all were, we do not know for sure. Mr. and Mrs. Southwood were original members as were Miss E. Haines, Frank Pool and George Puttee. From the beginning Frank Pool and Daniel Southwood were chosen as deacons, although it was not recorded at that time. George Puttee acted as the auditor.
The first official church meeting was held in an upper room of Kentville House (I have not been able to identify this properly, but I think it was Frank Pool's name for his own home) in Caterham Valley on November 21st 1894. There were 19 people present. A pulpit bible was presented to the new church by Mrs. Robins Cooke the wife of the butcher who used to trade at 8, Croydon Road (now Sharps). The beginnings of the church were very firmly amongst the people of the Victorian tradespeople. This is also indicated by the professions of the trustees. There were 2 grocers, 2 builders, 2 gardeners, a brewer, a civil service clerk, a carpenter and a wheelwright.
The first thing that concerned the new church was the appointment of a pastor, which makes it clear that this had priority over a permanent meeting place. The man they chose had been preaching for them for some months already, Mr. Alfred Ernest Fisher. He began his pastorate on January 6th 1895 when he was only 22 years old on a year's trial basis. He had been preaching since he was 18 or 19 years old. He came from Ebenezer chapel, Kilburn Vale, where he lived in the chapel house with his mother. It seems that he never moved to live in Caterham, but travelled down to Caterham whenever necessary to take the meetings.
The Tin Chapel in Beechwood Road 1895
By May 15th 1895 the church had collected £50 and was able to purchase a small plot of land in Beechwood Road from John Flaxman, a tailor, who also owned Frank Pool's shop. Tenders were put out to erect a temporary iron building (the temporary building was to survive for 82 years!) and the opening services were held on September 9th 1895. Mr. Steadman of Burgess Hill spoke in the afternoon about the gospel's power to save sinners and Mr. Hemmington of Devizes spoke in the evening about the work of the Holy Spirit, without whose help no Christian work would prosper. Mr. Pool reported that in spite of a struggle to erect the place of worship the members were as one, a people bound together for the furtherance of God's truth and gospel. The collection at that meeting came to £12 and it was reported that the church was still £100 in debt. The land had cost £56 and the building £180. In October that same year, the church joined the Metropolitan Association of Strict Baptist Churches. It was the smallest church in the Association with just 7 members. In December the church formally welcomed Alfred Fisher into the membership and as pastor (the trial period being over) and agreed to pay him £15 a year. If there was any money left after expenses were paid, that too was to be the pastor's.
On Easter Monday 1896, the church celebrated its second anniversary and recognition of the pastor. It was a day long event, with meetings in the morning, the afternoon and the evening. The young pastor spoke in the morning and the comment was made that he seemed quite at home in the pulpit. Lunch was at 1.00pm. and then Pastor William Wileman, from Alfred Fisher's home church, spoke on 'All things are of God'. Pastor Steadman spoke in the evening on 'What think ye of Christ? and 'What does Christ think of you?'. The chapel was full and between the services the visitors enjoyed walking in 'this truly rural and picturesque spot'. Most of Beechwood Road and Croydon Road was not yet built up.
Who was Ebenezer? Not a person, but a memorial stone!
On 14th April 1896, the church was formally constituted by trust deed as Ebenezer Strict Baptist Church. Ebenezer was a popular name for chapels at that time. It is taken from the Old Testament in 1 Samuel 7 v.12 and is Hebrew meaning 'Stone of help'. The prophet Samuel set up a stone to help the Israelites remember how God had intervened on their behalf to defeat their enemies the Philistines. As he did so, he said, 'Thus far the Lord has helped us.' The first members of Caterham Baptist church were saying by their name that their setting up a church was not merely to do with their own human efforts, but was part of the work of God.
In April 1896 a Sunday school was started in the afternoon, which was the first recorded outreach of the new church. it is not known if these children belonged to the congregation anyway or were recruited from outside. Alfred Fisher, Daniel Southwood and Frank Pool taking the boys class and Miss Minnie Smith (also from the chapel at Kilburn Vale) the girls. Their prayer was that 'the Lord would bless the work and make it increase with souls, as shall be manifestly saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation.' In fact, in spite of their prayers, it does not appear that this work was successful as it is not clear how long this Sunday school lasted. It not mentioned again at all, but it was not in existence by 1903.
In 1896 the baptistry was used for the first time. The church ended the year on a positive note having been able to pay off the debt on the building. By May 1897 Frank Pool had left the area, which must have been a blow to the little church he left behind.
The Gospel Standard denomination
In June 1898 the church adopted Gadsby's Rules and Articles of Faith and joined the Gospel Standard group of churches, where it was to remain quite comfortably for sixty years. The name Gospel Standard is a label from the magazine that William Gadsby edited until his death in 1844. Gadsby held certain beliefs that were to set him and his grouping of churches apart from the mainstream of Strict Baptist churches. They preached about the gospel, but they did not think that preachers should call on unbelievers to repent and believe the gospel, because that implied they had the power to do so, when in fact this was a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. It was not enough to say that the apostles did call people to repentance, as they were unique. This meant that preaching was biblical, impassioned but never direct. The link to the Gospel Standard grouping was in fact to ensure the church's survival in the difficult days to come.
1899 seemed to be the high point in the church's first years. At the Easter Monday Services they saw the largest numbers they had ever seen join with them. It is recorded that visitors came from Croydon, Tadworth, Wimbledon, Smallfields, Edenbridge and elsewhere. Mr. Jarvis from Greenwich preached at 3.00pm. on 'Naphtali is a hind let loose'(one wonders what he said!) and Mr. Wilmshurst from Croydon at 6.30pm. on Jesus' high priestly prayer in John 17. At the August bank holiday meetings, 113 people gathered to hear Mr. Eli Fox from Stevenage speak in the afternoon and the evening. That year 4 people were received into membership. Three came from other Strict Baptist churches, two from Woodgreen and one from West Street in Croydon and there was another baptism.
In 1900 William Stubberfield who lived in Medina Terrace, Whyteleafe transferred his membership from West Street, Croydon and was soon elected as a second deacon.
In 1901, to celebrate Mr. Fisher beginning his sixth year of ministry, there was a special service on the first Sunday in January in the afternoon. Daniel Southwood reminded the fellowship that having obtained the help of God, they continued to this day. Perhaps he was thinking of the chapel's name again! Someone donated the money so that they could have tea together and 32 people enjoyed the tea that day!
Then the blow struck, when Alfred Fisher died on September 11th 1901, aged 28 years. The church book recorded that 'this seems to us a loss irreparable, feeling deeply as we do, as a little people that none but God alone can repair this breach, caused by the departure of so faithful an ambassador of Christ from earth to heaven.'
In 1903 the church called Mr. Akehurst to be their pastor and received into membership 3 new members. Mr. Akehurst had many plans for the growth of the church, a week night meeting, a Sunday School, a monthly magazine to be used in the locality and the refurbishing of the chapel buildings with new heating and seating. By the end of 1904, having not seen any conversions through his ministry, he resigned as pastor, much to the members' regret. In 1905 Mr. West was called to be pastor, but it would seem that he never formally became pastor, although he was leading the church's business meetings until January 1910.
The struggle to survive 1905 - 1927.
The beginnings of the church were precarious. It never had more than 14 members and mostly a lot fewer than that. The church now entered upon a long period when its very existence as a viable meeting seemed in doubt. The only reason it did survive was because the other Gospel Standard churches in the area obviously pledged themselves to keep it going, supporting it with their preachers and attending its special services. No mention is made of Mr. Stubberfield after 1904 and Mr. Southwood was left to keep the chapel going as best as he could. In the church book it was recorded at his death that 'he laboured for many years spending his strength and substance in the maintaining of the cause of God which was ever dear to him.' From 1905 to 1927 very little seems to have happened that was worth recording. The church book shows only the financial balance for the year and little else. It seems that only 3 or 4 met together and during the time of the first World war, meetings were only held once a month.
The church meetings where no members spoke! 1927 - 1955
In 1927 when Mr. Southwood died there were only 3 lady members, Mrs. Southwood, and two single ladies. It was not viable to keep a church going with lady members under the Gospel Standard rules, because, unless requested, they were not allowed to speak at the church's meetings! The writer of Mr. Southwood's obituary prayed that 'the Lord may graciously continue to raise up others, if his holy will, to carry on the good work in an acceptable, Scriptural and orderly manner.'
This seems to have been the mood of the few that were left. A poem was written anonymously in 1927 which for a long time hung in the chapel vestry.
A Member's Prayer
O Lord our God, help us to pray,
More earnestly to Thee each day
That Caterham Chapel e'er might be
Increased with sinners seeking Thee.
Our numbers, Lord, are very small,
Thus help us more on Thee to call.
We need Thy presence, Lord, to be
With each of us continually.
That we may see Thy guiding hand,
Before us, through this barren land
To help us live to Thee each day,
While walking in the narrow way.
Increase our faith, our hope and love,
And, as we plead with Thee above,
O fill our hearts with filial fear
And make us know that Thou dost hear.
Send answers, Lord, in Thine own time,
Teach us to know that we are Thine.
And those, O Lord, who do meet here,
May they humbly in Thy fear -
Constrain them in Thy ways to go
That they, by this, their love may show
To Thee, their Lord, their God and King,
And may they shelter 'neath Thy wing.
Constrain them, Lord, to come and tell
That Thou hast saved their souls from hell,
And bought them with Thine own heart's blood
And filled their souls with Thy great love,
Cause them to publicly confess
Their love to Thee, the God of grace.
O may they in Thy footsteps move
Nor dare Thy ways to disapprove,
May Thy great love inspire their breast,
Cause them to solemnly confess
How much to Thee, their God, they owe,
Who saved them from this world of woe.
Thus may we each encouraged be
And walk in all humility,
United in Thy fear and love,
O may we ever praise our God
Who answered prayer and did us bless
With such a godly, rich increase.
And bless Thy servants Thou dost send,
Which tell us of our heavenly Friend,
Stand by them, Lord, each Sabbath day
And ever guide them on their way.
Help them with earnestness to tell
How Jesus hath done all things well.
O give them grace to labour on
And preach the glories of Thy Son.
Extol our Jesus, lift Him high,
Then Satan's power we can defy
Because the Lord is always near
To bless and comfort and to cheer.
O may Thy servants happy be,
And know their work is owned by Thee,
Still preach of Jesu's love and blood
Which does poor helpless sinners good.
Thus prosper Caterham Chapel, Lord,
And we Thy goodness shall record.
It was to be many years before anything like prosperity was to be seen in the chapel. Mrs.Southwood struggled to keep everything going for a year, but then asked Mr. Wilfrid Wadey, the manager of Duke's Quality House at 1 Station Parade to act as secretary and treasurer, even though he was not a member. He seems to have moved into Caterham when he came out of the army at the end of the First World War in 1918.
In 1928 it was thought that the only way to keep the church going was to form a committee and appoint new trustees as most of the original trustees had died. Mr. Stannard acted as chairman and Mr. Fred Farncombe of Tamworth Road acted as deputy chairman of the new committee. The rest of the committee consisted of the 3 lady members of the church and the 5 male members of the congregation.
It is clear that throughout Caterham's first 70 years, people attended regularly who did not become members. This was not because they did not believe in membership, or did not wholeheartedly approve the basis of faith. The reluctance to join was due to the belief that was prevalent among the Gospel Standard churches, that to be baptised you had to have a special indication from God that you were genuinely a child of God. Among some the uncertainty about one's spiritual state was seen as a sign of true spirituality. This emphasis on a sign to assure you of salvation, plus the teaching that assurance could be presumption on your part, meant that many godly people never felt able to be baptised and as a result attended and supported the church faithfully, but never joined. In March 1928 11 new trustees were appointed, as most of the original trustees had died, and all the new trustees were members of Gospel Standard churches.
Throughout this period a special service was held in either July or August which was advertised in the denominational magazine, the Christian Pathway. Through the years the advert did not change in its wording, with the exception of the war years when friends were asked to bring their own sugar for tea! A popular speaker was Mr. Ernest Brooker of Tunbridge Wells, whose two daughters both remember coming over to August bank holiday services. Mr. Brooker would take the train to Woldingham station and walk from there to the chapel. Miss Kathleen Brooker recalls her thrill aged 10 or 11 having a pew made only for two at the side of the chapel, which she was able to share with her friend. Mr. Brooker's son in law, Mr. Jack Hoad, records that one August special service Mr. Wadey was sitting on a fold up seat at the back of the chapel, when it collapsed throwing him to the floor! Mr. Hoad preached at the chapel himself in the 1930s. If it was fine, tea was taken outside, tables being set out at the back and sides of the chapel and ministers having a separate table!. One visitor to such a tea in the early 1960s recalls that Caterham was already considered somewhat daring for having sandwiches, rather than bread and butter and fancy cakes rather than plain cakes.
In 1929 weeknight meetings were once again established on Tuesdays and Mr. Brooker was a regular preacher. People used to travel from Croydon to hear him speak and one such lady recorded that the Lord used the ministry of Mr. Brooker 'to search, warn and encourage me with regard to my interest in the things of God and my interest in the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ.' In 1930 a prayer meeting was started before the morning service. There were 4 baptisms between 1932 and 1938, Miss Stockman and Miss Bravery both joining the church in 1938. From 1932 until 1944 nothing further is recorded in the church book, though we know from the treasurer's accounts that meetings were kept going throughout this period on both Sundays and Tuesdays with visiting speakers. It was not all that often that it was recorded that there was no minister, which was quite something in the light of the critical times they were living through.
'Not a single shaft can hit,
Till the God of love sees fit!'
In 1940 and 1941 large numbers of incendiary bombs fell over Caterham. One large bomb fell only 25 yards from the chapel buildings, but in the mercy of God did not explode. All traffic, both road and rail, was stopped for 2 weeks while the bomb disposal squad made the device safe and the whole area including the chapel was evacuated. The little congregation adjourned to Miss Draper's house at 9 Beechwood Road, which was just outside the evacuated area. Miss Draper was another of the faithful 'attenders'. In 1944 there were more flying bomb attacks, with up to 13 alerts a day. The chapel windows were all blown out on another occasion and a bullet came through the roof which was found under the reading desk. While other buildings in Caterham were destroyed, Mr. Wadey recorded that 'this frail building was preserved.'
The Rebuilding Fund in the year of Jubilee.
The congregation were thankful to God for their preservation and for the privilege of continued worship in the building. They had a vision for the future too, when at the end of 1944, they decided to make their new year thankoffering fund, a rebuilding fund. They collected £20 and Mr. Wadey recorded, 'The chapel....will at some time in the near future have to be rebuilt and as the cost of building will in all probability be high, we feel that we would like to bear a part of the burden that will fall upon those who may be worshipping in this place then.' It was to be 30 years before any rebuilding was done!
On Wednesday 15 July 1945 the church celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, the services once again being conducted by Mr. Brooker. His text was taken from the celebration of the year of Jubilee (the fiftieth year) in Israel.( Leviticus 25v.10) The chapel was full and included in the congregation 7 people who were present at the opening service 50 years previously. It would have been interesting to know who they were! The collection was £21, which was also transferred to the rebuilding fund.
In 1949 a generous donation meant that the chapel could be renovated both outside and in, without touching the building fund that they were anxious to keep for a new building. The outside was repaired and painted, the name board and notice board were rewritten and repainted. The windows were all reglazed and the inside repainted and the woodwork revarnished. Mr. Wadey recorded that the alterations though simple were much appreciated and regarded as a wonderful improvement. However, the toilet out the back was still an elsan!
A Nineteenth Century Church in the Twentieth Century World.
For the next few years nothing much seemed to happen. The church was not recognised or understood by other residents of Caterham. The Council year books do not even acknowledge its existence in their list of places of worship in Caterham. The children, who observed it from their school, were puzzled by the name and made up rhymes about Ebenezer, king of the Jews! Adults wondered what the church was strict and particular about! To be fair the church was not very interested in explaining itself to the general public. They did not understand how they were perceived from outside looking in. The Gospel Standard grouping reflected practice that was accepted in the first half of the nineteenth century, but had become obsolete in the latter half of the twentieth century. The story is told that one preacher was surprised by a group of children coming in to the prayer meeting and sitting down. He prayed for them that they might be taken to the door post and their ears lobes might be pierced with an awl! Do you know where he took this terminology from and what he meant by it? It is not altogether surprising that the children shrieked and ran out!
The meetings continued, but in a very static way. People sat in the same named places and heard the same speakers. The services were very much in the Gospel Standard tradition. There was total silence before and after services, except when it rained, for the noise on the metal roof was very loud. Peter White was once reproved for playing the organ after a service! The service was led from the reading desk by Mr. Wadey, who would also choose the 3 hymns, which were always from Gadsby's hymn book. Then the minister would go up in the pulpit to preach The last hymn was chosen while the sermon was being preached. If there was no minister available a sermon would be read from the Gospel Standard magazine. The lights would be turned down during the prayers and at the beginning of the sermon to save the power. At communion the three lady members would be the only ones to take part, observed by the majority of the congregation and the singing would be unaccompanied. In all the meetings ladies would be expected to wear hats. The prayer meetings were conducted by the minister asking various men to lead the meeting in prayer. If you were not asked, you did not pray and the ladies were not allowed to pray publicly anyway.
There were three families who came regularly to the chapel, the Wadeys, the Whites and the Chalks, none of whom were members. There were 6 ladies who made up the rest of the regular congregation: Mrs. Southwood and her niece Miss May Stockman, who acted as treasurer from 1940 until 1961, who lived in Commonwealth Road; Mrs. Draper and her daughter Miss Mary Draper who lived in Beechwood Road; Miss Bravery who walked over from Warlingham every Sunday and Mrs. Beatrice Stripp, a widow, who was a piano and violin teacher, who played the organ. Mr. Wadey continued to book the speakers and act as secretary. He was very much the ex-officio leader, being a man of business. He had the distinction of being the first person in the chapel to own a car and also of developing a new apple tree which was named after him.' Wadey's Pippin' can still be seen in the garden of Esquires, the premises where he lived and worked for much of his life. The ladies in the chapel did not work, they all had independent means, but provided generously in hospitality to speakers and providing the regular chapel teas.
In 1955 there was the first church meeting for many years when the object was to appoint new trustees. There seem to have been only 4 church members at this point, who were all ladies. However, the Lord was stirring the hearts of those who had been regular members of the congregation for years. At a church meeting in September, both Mr. James White and Mr. Wilfrid Wadey asked for baptism. They were baptised together on Tuesday October 4th 1955, which was an answer to Mrs. Southwood's prayer that she might see Mr. Wadey baptised before she died. She died the following April 1956 aged 91, the last surviving founder member of the chapel, having been a member for 61 years. She has the distinction of being, to date, the longest serving member!
At a church meeting in November 1955, Mr. Wadey and Mr. White were appointed deacons. It was agreed that this was rather sudden, but it was felt that the interests of the church would be served by the appointments being made immediately. Mr. Wadey expressed both his and Mr.White's appreciation of the confidence of the church and promised that with the help of God they would do their utmost to serve the church in humility and affection, which, it can be recorded now, they did for as long as they were able. Mr. Wadey's gifts were those of leadership and organisation, whereas Mr. White was gifted with the quiet inner spirituality of a man who maintained a close walk with God
Giant Leaps Forward 1955 - 1971
The stirrings of change were being felt in other churches, whose preachers were to have a direct effect upon the small group at Caterham. The first moves were being made towards preaching which went through a whole book of the Bible or a whole chapter or at the very least looked at the context of a verse, intending to bring out the meaning of a passage. This was revolutionary to those who were used to ministry that was delivered without notes and not formally planned. Some were known to receive their message as they went up the pulpit steps! The desire for consecutive preaching of the Bible, led inevitably to the desire for a pastor.
One preacher in 1956, asked to lead in prayer before the service in the vestry, prayed that the church might be given a pastor. Mr. Wadey was amazed and said that no one had ever prayed for Caterham to have a pastor before. The preacher replied that the church would have a pastor yet.
In the next few years the church started to grow. Young people from Gospel Standard churches moved out from Croydon to live in Caterham and at the same time the ministry was becoming more thought out and relevant. Dorothy Maslen, originally from Derby Road Chapel in Croydon, was baptised at Caterham in 1957 or 1958. She was the first 'new' person to be baptised at Caterham in 20 years. She was not in sympathy with Gospel Standard traditions and so another point of view was being heard.
Peter White had gone to the Sunday school at Tamworth Road Chapel in Croydon on Sunday afternoons, as there was no Sunday school at Caterham. As he grew older he went to the Croydon Strict Baptist churches young peoples' group, which met on a Friday evening and there he met Hedley and Joyce Hawkins from West Street Chapel. Hedley and Joyce were living in Caterham- on- the- Hill, but only through giving Peter a lift home from the meeting did they realise that there was a chapel in Caterham.
Hedley and Joyce started attending at Caterham and they were both baptised in 1959. Hedley was an independent thinker and enthusiastic about his Christian faith and proved to be a breath of fresh air to the small, but growing group at Caterham. Through the Hawkins, Frank and Hazel Ellis came to Caterham from Tamworth Road and Frank came into membership the following year. Frank Ellis had begun to read the Puritans for himself and although he came from a strict Gospel Standard tradition, he found his theological understanding changing. His head had told him that he could not preach the gospel, although his heart had told him that he should. It was through reading John Owen that his dilemma was solved and he left Gospel Standard theology behind. He had begun preaching at Caterham in 1959 and by 1961 he became convinced of his call to full time ministry and service with The Strict and Particular Baptist Trust Corporation. His understanding of the gospel became influential in the thinking of the members. He records that all their thinking was evolving as a group as a result of much discussion and under the influence of teachers like John Doggett. In 1961 Peter White, his mother and his sister were baptised on separate occasions. Almost immediately Peter became church treasurer.
Slowly the nature of the church began to change. The changes were not revolutionary to those on the outside! The fellowship's younger members were able to take the older members with them, without causing major upset. Perhaps this was because they respected the deep spirituality of the older members, who although reluctant to change, recognised that the Lord was indeed blessing the church through new people coming.
There were huge leaps forward in outlook, reflecting real needs in the growing congregation. It was agreed that ministers might be asked to give a children's' talk. The practice of ladies remaining silent in church meetings was at least questioned openly. It was agreed that Hedley Hawkins and Peter White could begin a Sunday School. They collected together 20 children the first time the Sunday School met on June 25th 1961. The Sunday School went well from the beginning, with annual prizegivings, carol services, harvest services and outings. Invitations were given to parents to all these events, which was the first time the church had tried to get the unchurched into its premises.
In 1962 the church's articles of faith and rules were rewritten by Frank Ellis, effectively ending the church's adherence to the Gospel Standard grouping, although that was not perceived at the time. In September the church held its first harvest service and it was agreed that the children's' talk could have visual aids. In November 1962 the church considered calling someone to be the pastor for the first time in over 50 years.
In 1963 and 1964 more young people started to worship at Caterham. Hazel Muddell and Elizabeth Stanley who worked at the Royal Marsden hospital visited various churches from the denomination, but felt immediately at home and welcomed at Caterham and Elizabeth was quickly involved in the work of the Sunday school. The theme of a genuine welcome and warmth comes through often in the recollections of this time. The church was welcoming people from the same background, but they were truly pleased that they had come. Miss Draper, to her credit, changed the habits of a life time and moved seats, when one large family came for the first time! The families of the church were extremely hospitable and those coming from a distance usually spent the whole Sunday in Caterham. The older ladies were known as well for their generosity to the young families in baby sitting and giving hospitality.
The Fay family, who were related to Hedley Hawkins, came in 1963 and with 6 children seemed to double the congregation! The Bentley family and the Thirkell family also joined in 1964. The Sunday school began to flourish with new children from the church and from Hedley and Peter's efforts to bus children from Money Road and the Tillingdown estate. Frank Ellis was elected as the third deacon and secretary and discussion started up again about the need to develop the building. A new youth work developed around the older boys of the Sunday School, led by Peter White on a Friday evening.
In these years there was quite a lot of discussion about the need for elders and a pastor. In 1964 special prayer meetings started about calling a pastor. Various men were approached to be the pastor, but the invitations came to nothing.
The pastor will have somewhere to live!
In 1966 the decision was taken in faith to purchase the empty house next door to the chapel at 2a Beechwood Road, even though the church did not have the necessary money. It had been empty and neglected for some time, but various would be purchasers were unable to raise a mortgage on it. If the church had the use of the garden that went with the house, then the buildings could be developed in a way that was impossible on the chapel site alone. The members felt that their faith had been rewarded, when at this very time they discovered that Mrs. Stripp had left them a legacy which would cover the cost of the purchase. The youth group set to work and the house was cleaned and redecorated and started to be used for the Sunday school and youth group. At the same time the church applied to the Council to allow a change of use for the house and land. The Council was not initially in favour of the scheme, but eventually gave way, which was an answer to many prayers. The purchase of the house was an important step forward for the church. The chapel could be re-developed and a manse could be provided for a pastor. The church was in a much better position to ask someone to be the pastor.
At this time some of the members began to think in terms of reaching out to people outside the chapel. A revolutionary step indeed for a church that had kept itself to itself for 60 years. Some started door to door visitation around Beechwood Road and met with disbelief that the chapel was in use! It concerned those doing the visitation that the chapel was so unappealing to people outside. It was thought that the name 'Ebenezer' was a hindrance, only associated in the public mind with Scrooge. The need to change the name led to some rather heated church meetings. The older members could not see what the name of the chapel had to do with people who did not come! The name was eventually changed to Caterham Baptist Church. The church also started to distribute a magazine in the district called 'The Baptist Messenger' to tell the neighbourhood what the church believed.
In 1966 both Michael Bentley and Arthur Fay felt called by God to begin a preaching ministry. By this time Frank Ellis had decided that he would take up a post in the Strict Baptist Mission (now the Grace Baptist Mission). Michael began work for the Strict and Particular Trust Corporation, moving to Caterham to live and he also became church secretary. It was not too long before Michael and Arthur were appointed as joint assistant ministers in Caterham. In reality they were elders, but there was some resistance to that concept among some of the members. About the same time the church moved towards the idea of consecutive ministry with various speakers being asked to preach for a month at a time. John Doggett, Michael Bentley and Arthur Fay were very involved in ministry at this time. A new hall and car park were built at the back of the house and chapel, which opened in 1967.
In 1967 the church held a young peoples' rally for various churches in the area. The chapel was packed with young people to hear Michael Toogood preach. The fact that it was called a rally which had undertones of an evangelistic rally such as Billy Graham might hold, caused the Gospel Standard Committee to take Caterham off its list of churches. This meant that Caterham was no longer part of any grouping, it could function as an independent Baptist church which is what it is to this day. The departure was a cause of rejoicing to some, but it must have been a sadness to the older members who had been within that grouping for the whole of their Christian lives and had not known anything else.
In 1968 the notice board outside the chapel proclaiming it to be Ebenezer blew down and was not put back. At this time Chris and Faith Richards moved into Caterham, determined to worship locally and were immediately attracted by the tin tabernacle, which reminded them of the small tin tabernacle they had recently left. They were not from a Strict Baptist background and so they found the worship unfamiliar and a little stern. They enjoyed the sermon and after the service they were made so welcome that they never went to look for anywhere else. Had they seen that notice board, they said that they might never have come in! They were the first Christians to join Caterham Baptist church who had no background in the Strict Baptist culture. They were the first of many to come who were to be puzzled by it.
Faith Richards and Judith Bentley started a play group for 3-5 year olds from the neighbourhood called the Sunshine Hour. It was held for two hours on Tuesday mornings in the chapel house. The house was already being put to good use. The young peoples' work also started to develop further in that a Wednesday night children's' work was started and the church began youth camps in the summer. The Fays had been involved in such camps in their previous church in Watford and Peter White had been along as a camper, so it was not a totally new concept. The older children went to Twywn in North Wales and the younger ones to Barcombe in Sussex.
There were to be yet more changes in the small, but growing membership. In 1967 the Hawkins family moved from the area. At the end of 1968 Arthur Fay was called to be the pastor of Dorking Strict Baptist church. Sadly, he soon developed cancer and in spite of many prayers for his healing, died in the summer of 1969. In 1970 Michael Bentley received a call to be the pastor of Enon Chapel, Plumstead. By 1971 Mr. and Mrs. Wadey had moved from Chaldon to a nursing home and were no longer a regular part of the church's life. Other families joined the church who did not come from Strict Baptist churches and things began to change as people's thinking did not conform to the same pattern.
The church was still anxious to call a pastor. John Doggett and Peter White made an under cover visit to hear the preaching of Richard Chester, the pastor of Cranleigh Baptist church, because they had heard he was wanting to move. They were impressed by what they heard and arranged for Richard to come and preach at Caterham for four Sundays in succession. A church meeting in June 1971 agreed to ask him to be the pastor, which he accepted and a new era had begun. He became the pastor on October 31st 1971 and the church had a pastor for the first time in nearly 70 years. That Sunday Richard Chester preached on 'Go and make disciples of all nations.' It was time for the church to be thinking outwards.
1971 - 1981 A decade of church growth
Richard and Judith Chester and their young family came to a church which had 25 members. By the time they left the membership of the church had more than doubled and the church was firmly established. It was a time when individual Christians grew and gave sacrificially to the church in terms of money and time.
Richard asked that the practice of the deacons choosing the hymns be changed and that was accepted as soon as he arrived. The hymn book was also changed, a major departure with tradition. These were a small price to pay for the benefit of consistent, searching, biblical ministry which soon began to attract Christians from other churches. For many it was the first time they had heard preaching about the sovereignty of God, his grace in choosing sinners before the foundation of the world and the assurance that such understanding gives. It was also a time when series of sermons were given on specific subjects like the Ten Commandments and Knowing God, which meant that whole themes were covered in a meaningful way. To many such ministry was a breath of fresh air and the atmosphere created was of a church on the up and looking out.
The old tin chapel seated 69 people and yet on some occasions over 100 people were squeezed in to the building. It was a steward's and fire officer's nightmare! Some people had to sit on the pulpit steps! One person recalls their baptism, when sitting on the front row next to the baptistry, there was a danger of entering the water too soon if one overbalanced!
A Sunday evening youth group started for teenagers and Chris and Faith Richards started an Easter Houseparty for young people from many churches. This was taken over by John and Janet Pascoe, when Chris and Faith left to work for the Strict Baptist Mission and over the years was a means of bringing many young people from the Christian families in the church to faith and building them up in the faith. Another important aspect of bringing many to Christian maturity was the work done by Ian and Marion Brown, together with Clive Davies in the Young Peoples' Fellowship. It has been said of that group that all aspects of their well being were taken care of. 'We ate a lot, walked a lot, laughed a lot, sang a lot; but spiritual necessities were never neglected or treated with an embarrassed air.'
In January 1973 the pastor and deacons started work on a new and fuller constitution for the church. It was a labour of some two years and in 1975 the church adopted it formally. That work is still used by the church as it forms the basis of our 'Into Membership' booklet. In 1976 discussion was restarted over the matter of elders. In 1977 David Knights and Brian French were appointed as elders and in January 1980 John Pascoe was also appointed.
Other new activities were the Ladies Bible Study started for the young mothers in the church who were unable to attend all the teaching meetings, a programme of door to door visitation and Focus meetings, which were home bible study groups for interested non Christians. A Christian book stall was also set up on Saturdays in the town centre.
A building for the twentieth century
From 1974 - 1978 the church's energies were taken up almost exclusively in its rebuilding programme. The old tin chapel had become positively dangerous. If the ladies wore high heels, they were liable to go through the floor and if you pulled a plug out of a socket the plaster was likely to come with it. Many remember the perils of using the toilet! The pews moved up and down as people walked along the aisles.
This was a difficult time for many of the families in the church, as many gave up all their free time to building a new chapel. It was particularly hard for the Chesters who lived on a building site for four years and for the Baldwins as John led the rebuilding team!
In June 1974 the work began on an extension to the hall to provide more accommodation and vestry, toilet and kitchen facilities. By Easter 1976 this stage had been completed. Work began in October on the erection of a new chapel. By Easter 1977 the old tin tabernacle was demolished and the new building was complete by July 1978. The work was done entirely through voluntary labour and it is estimated that it took 12,000 hours of the members' evenings, Saturdays and bank holidays. The cost of the project was £24,000 which was met by the church members themselves. It was a time when people worked together for a common purpose and many look back at the time as being one of deepening fellowship and personal growth, but it was not without its cost in family life.
The thanksgiving services for the completion of the new chapel were held on 22nd July 1978 when Geoff Thomas from Aberystwyth preached. The new chapel was full for the occasion and there was much rejoicing and looking forward to a spiritual building programme in people coming to faith and growing in the faith.
The work progressed among the children as Holiday Bible clubs were begun and as camps were restarted. The first camp was at Twywn again in 1980 and attracted 50 children from outside the church. This was a major project for the church and over 20 people from the church were involved in the planning and staffing.
In July 1981 Richard Chester announced that he was moving to become the pastor of the Baptist Church in Abingdon. This was a blow to the church, who did not want him to leave, but he felt the Lord was calling him there and he left Caterham in December 1981.
1982 Troubled Times
The church continued to be led by the eldership team who were looking for another man to be the pastor. The elders could not agree about this, which caused such a deep split between them that eventually the church itself split. About 20 people left to form another fellowship which became Caterham Reformed Baptist Church. Our church at this time lost nearly all its young married couples and many of its young people, which is a gap today that is still deeply felt.
1983 to the present.
Although the remaining members felt battered, the church also wanted to continue to look to the future. In March 1983 the church called Mr. Keith Johns to become the pastor. Keith had been known to the church since 1980, when he had been involved in the camp at Twywn. The welcome service was held on 16th July 1983, when the chapel was full on what was the hottest day of that year! It was perhaps a sign of less informal times to come, when some were in shorts and all the men abandoned ties!
The church has changed in the last eleven years, although it is really too close to evaluate. The changes have been gradual and small. The New International Version has become the version in public use. The ladies were allowed to worship without hats and pray publicly at the prayer meetings. The hymn book was supplemented by Mission Praise and more recently Praises for the King of Kings. Sunday best clothes are gradually disappearing. The congregation has become more truly reflective of the community, although we still have a good number who travel a distance to us.
A number of activities have become part of the church's way of life in the last ten years in addition to the work among young people and the ladies bible study group which were already in place. The Book mornings were started on Saturdays, the Wednesday club for people with learning disabilities, the Mother and Toddlers' group, the men's' Bible Study group, the Thursday fellowship for senior citizens, various groups for younger adults, a teenage youth club, a service at Buxton Lodge nursing home and new committees encouraging us to think again about evangelism and mission. Many of the church's preachers have been helping support the small congregation at Pains Hill chapel.
The chapel buildings have been renovated yet again to incorporate what were the manse buildings into the main church complex. The 24 hour decorating marathon will be remembered for a long time to come! The work on the buildings continues to this day.
Currently, the church has an active membership of around 60 people with many others who regularly attend our meetings. Two thirds of the membership have not had any background in the historical tradition in which the church itself stands. About a quarter of the membership are first generation Christians.
There are some things that have not changed and we hope by the grace of God will not change. The Christians of 1894 would be uncomfortable about many of our practices today, but we trust they would recognise the same message of the good news of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible, the same belief in preaching and teaching and fellowship as the foundation of a Christian church and the same commitment to make that good news known in Caterham, the surrounding area and the world.
* Strict and Particular Baptists.
In Baptist history there have always been those who practised a restricted communion which is where the title strict comes from. This means that only those who have been baptised by immersion on profession of faith will be admitted to the communion service. The label particular comes from the belief that Christ died for all the people that were chosen to be Christians in particular and not for all people generally. As both phrases are much misunderstood, it is not felt helpful to use them now.